Ring Slings and Mei Tais: The Yay to the Nay
A few weeks ago, I entered the complex world of baby carriers. I started with a post on baby wraps and since then, I have been toting my newborn (edited to add: she’s currently six weeks old and 9lbs) around in various baby ring slings and mei tais. What’s a Mei Tai? Well, it’s not an alcoholic drink, that’s for sure. And I wouldn’t recommend tying one when you’ve had one too many either.
It’s important to note that I am no baby carrying expert. So, I’m sure someone will read my review and say, well, she’s doing it wrong! But if that’s the case, then putting the baby carrier on wrong is a valid part of this review, too. If you are a babywearing expert, you don’t need a baby carrier review. This post is meant for people who are as new to this as I am and want to carry their baby in something that is easily wearable and safe for their baby.
(I actually went to a place called Metro Minis in New York City, to make all my purchases and get instruction on how to use them properly (you should go there if you live in the area!). Seeing a visual demonstration, whether in-store or by using baby wearing videos online, is key.)
Allow me to help….
c. $83 – $90
Mei Tais (also known as Asian style baby carriers) are all very similar. They are sort of a middle ground between wraps and structured soft carriers like the Ergo or the Baby Bjorn. Their shape is similar to a structured carrier but instead of buckles, all closures are done with double knots. You will find no buttons, snaps, or hardware whatsoever on a Catbird Baby Mai Tei.
Basically, you double knot one strap around your waist, hold your baby close as you pull the carrier over the baby’s back and then throw the straps over your shoulder, criss-cross the straps and then bring them around the front, twist and then double knot in the back. Which, I now realize, is way easier than it sounds. Case in point, I only needed to be shown how to use it once before I got it down. And unlike a baby wrap or a ring sling, there is no room for error— I really can’t imagine any way that you could do it wrong (always double knot).
The Mei Tai baby carriers can accommodate newborns to toddlers up to 40lbs. They are comfortable enough for relaxed indoor use but also sturdy enough so that you feel safe using them outdoors.
The Catbird Baby Mai Tei comes in numerous colors and patterns— all reversible, so there is a pattern on one side and a solid on the other (you can find a wide selection of patterns at Metro Minis). Personally, I found the patterns to be very sophisticated and not babyish at all. I was drawn to a camel colored Mei Tai with an aqua and pink bold flower pattern (the Zoe pattern); a nice change from the utilitarian feel of most solid-colored structured carriers.
The fabric feels really high quality, the top is cushioned and easily bends forward to accommodate your baby comfortably, and can be worn both on the front (facing in or out), on the hip and on the back. For newborns, you can sit your whole baby inside the pouch. For older babies, you can let their legs hang out on either side of you.
CatBird also makes a fleece Mei Tai cover for the winter which I have used whenever I take the baby out of the house. But, it’s worth noting, it can accommodate any newborn carrier with shoulder straps, regardless of the brand.
Almost everything I said about the CatBird also rings true for the BabyHawk baby carrier, although there are a few differences. The most noticeable difference is the color and pattern options, so I’m sure many people pick their Mei Tai based solely on which pattern they like best. That’s not a bad thing to do— both the BabyHawk and the Catbird are great products.
If I have to differentiate, I would say the quality of the BabyHawk fabric feels slightly less premium than the CatBird. The pouch is a little smaller and the straps are not as wide. Plus the top of the pouch has a hard stiff cushion that does not mold as easily to your baby’s needs— particularly a newborn.
BUT— there is one big advantage that made me choose the BabyHawk baby carrier over the CatBird every time. It has a pocket in the front. The pocket is big enough for cash, a diaper, and a pacifier— meaning you can walk freely out of the house without a bag.
Ring slings were my least favorite of all the types of baby carriers I tried over the past few weeks. They look very sophisticated on and they are easier to store since they use less fabric than a baby wrap, but they have the most room for error when putting them on.
First, it’s worth noting that ring slings are not recommended for use with your baby in a cradle position. They should sit upright just like they do in a Mei Tai carrier or baby wrap which makes putting a ring sling on correctly harder than you might think.
The most important thing is for the material around the ring to be untangled, in order and easy to move freely. This is all easier said than done. Even after watching an online video, when I did it my baby seemed to lean away from the ring making her head often fall precariously off to the side. If I pulled the ring sling tighter, it seemed like the material was going to cut into my baby’s neck. Maybe when the baby is a little older and can sit upright on her own, the sling will be easier to use. (She’s a six-week old newborn).
Bottom line, even though I had a hands-on tutorial and watched online videos a couple of weeks later to learn how to do it right, I am still not sure I ever got it. My baby is less than 9 lbs. so I am supposed to tuck her feet under the material and keep her in a little ball against my chest. The only problem is my daughter has acid reflux and doesn’t always want to pull in her feet, so she would lock her knees making it difficult for me to get her in the correct position.
Also, I was never able to keep the baby in the ring sling as long as some of the other baby carriers— both due to my baby’s comfort and mine. As much as they say correctly worn ring slings shouldn’t feel weighted to one side, I didn’t find that to be the case. You are holding your baby up by one shoulder and I definitely felt an imbalance and was constantly stretching my back as a result.
The Girasol wrap fabric has three colorways which aids in tightening the Sleeping Baby ring sling— something of utmost importance since you are trying to keep the wrap untangled. With the colorways, you can follow the stripes— outer stripe pulls the bottom close and inner stripe pulls the top close. The fabric is high quality and durable and it comes in great colors.
c. $88 – $200
The Sakura Bloom Baby Ring Sling is used exactly the same way as the Sleeping Baby ring sling. The only difference is the fabric. The Sakura one I have and tried is reversible silk with a muted color on one side and a pop of color on the other (it also comes in fine linen). It looks beautiful on but it needs to be dry cleaned which definitely throws a wrench into an otherwise lovely product. Especially since my baby has acid reflux and spits up regularly.
That being said, the Sakura Baby Ring Sling in silk is made of a lightweight (yet sturdy) fabric and perfect for summer. Plus it can be easily stored or thrown into your bag without taking up too much space. It does not have the colorways of the Girasol version of the Sleeping Baby sling to guide tightening it, but I did find the fabric to pose less risk of getting tangled making tightening a little smoother than the Girasol ring sling.
But, the main disadvantage was that whenever I wore it, my husband would tell me he didn’t like the way our baby’s head was leaning to one side. He felt like her neck was not supported properly. I think when I first put on the sling, it looked correct but my baby was somehow able to shift inside the longer I wore her, to a less supported position.
Obviously, I prefer the Mei Tai baby carriers to the baby ring slings. In fact, if you are going to get one baby carrier out of all the options (baby wraps, Mei Tais and ring slings), I’d get a Mei Tai baby carrier. It’s light enough to wear indoors and sturdy enough to wear outdoors. Plus, it’s great that it’s versatile and very easy to use. If you want to choose between the Catbird Mei Tai and the BabyHawk Mei Tai, it all depends on one thing— how important is a pocket to you?
If you are getting a Mei Tai, I would also recommend getting the fleece CatBird Cover as outerwear. It’s an easy solution to keeping your child warm while toting him/her around, especially since it is not recommended to put a baby in a coat inside a carrier. Just don’t put on the cover until you leave the house. It’s very warm and you don’t want your baby to overheat.
Photo sources: company websites and MetroMinis